You bang your knee on a coffee table, and feel a sharp, shooting pain. It hurts, but the throbbing quickly goes away. That’s acute pain. Chronic pain is a completely different story. Whether it’s a backache courtesy of a long-forgotten car accident or constant soreness caused by arthritis, cancer or another condition, chronic pain persists. And it can be very difficult to cope with. It’s frustrating, tricky to treat and can even lead to depression.Aching for relief
The first step to overcoming the agony is making sure your healthcare provider knows how you feel. Tell him or her everywhere you hurt, exactly what it feels like (Is it burning? Throbbing? Tight? Shooting?), how bad the pain is on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the worst pain imaginable), how often it occurs and what makes you feel better or worse. This information can help your doctor determine the root of your problem and treat it.
There’s no magic pill when it comes to treating chronic pain, so your healthcare provider may suggest several therapies, including:
- Medication. Your healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter or prescription painkillers, anticonvulsants or other drugs, depending on the severity and cause of your pain. If pain is taking its toll on you mentally or keeping you up at night, your healthcare provider may also recommend antidepressants or sleep aids.
- Exercise. Low-impact activities such as walking or swimming can help release endorphins, your body’s natural pain relievers. Staying active can also help you get stronger and improve flexibility, sleep and energy. And by helping you maintain a healthy weight, exercise can take some of the stress off your joints. Ask your healthcare provider which exercises are appropriate for you.
- Soothing soaks. Taking a hot bath can relieve arthritis pains or spasms; cool baths can help reduce swelling and inflammation.
- Meditation. Whether it’s deep-breathing exercises, guided imagery (for example, visualizing a pleasant scene), prayer, tai chi or yoga, thinking better can help you physically feel better.
- Hands-on care. Massage, acupuncture (using needles), acupressure (applying pressure to specific points on the body) and reflexology (applying pressure to the feet or hands) may help you relax and ease aches.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Sometimes described as “electrical massage,” TENS may block or prevent pain. TENS involves attaching two electrodes to your skin near the source of your pain. The electrodes are connected to a unit that emits a mild electrical current, which seems to block or stop pain signals.
- Injections. Your healthcare provider can inject nerve-blocking substances to relieve soreness, reduce inflammation and prevent the spread of certain types of pain.
- Surgery. If conservative measures fail, a surgeon can sometimes implant a device that delivers pain-relieving electrical impulses or medications.
Again, there’s no cure-all when it comes to chronic pain. But you and your healthcare provider can work together to create the perfect prescription for relieving your pain.